Dunsink Observatory

Dunsink Observatory was built from 1783 until 1785 to allow scientists to observe stars and planets.

This video is designed as a resource for primary and post-primary students up to Junior Certificate.

Dunsink Observatory

Did you know that Ireland has a ‘space centre’? It is called Dunsink Observatory and is located on a hill just west of Finglas, near Dunsink Lane. Here you can gaze into space, observe the stars and ask questions about astronomy.

Dunsink Observatory was built from 1783 until 1785 which means that it is the oldest scientific institution in Ireland. At that time Dunsink was far away from the noise and lights of the city and a perfectly dark location for observing the stars and planets.

William Rowan Hamilton (1805-1865), one of Ireland’s greatest scientists, was a director of Dunsink Observatory. He became professor of astronomy when he was only 21 years old but he preferred mathematics to astronomy and left most of the observational work to his children and his sister.

However his interest in mathematics was very important for us today . For, one day as he was walking near Broom bridge in Cabra, he had a flash of inspiration which led to his discovery of “quaternions” in mathematics. He was so excited that he had to write his ideas down so he scratched them into the bridge, and you can still see them today. The really good news is that these mathematics were used to invent the 3-D computer graphics for Lara Croft in Tomb Raider, and many more!

From 1880 until 1916 Dunsink controlled the time for the whole of Ireland. Back then, Ireland did not have one time, and clocks ran differently in Cork, Dublin, Belfast, and Galway. Dublin time was called ‘Dublin Mean Time’ and was established on 2 August 1880. The ‘Dublin Mean Time’ ran 25 minutes and 21 seconds behind London until October 1916 when the time used in Ireland was changed to British time.

By the 1920s the observatory was in decline and finally closed. It reopened in 1947 and became part of the Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies.

In 1988 Dunsink was involved in the first Irish Space experiment aboard the shuttle Challenger.

Scientific research continued at Dunsink until 2005 when the observatory was converted into a museum. You can still visit it if you make an appointment, or your school can go there on special trips in the day or evening.

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